Cuenca is situated between Madrid and Valencia, in the third least populated region in Europe, and the town itself is a world heritage site - the old town is an outstanding example of a medieval city, built on the steep sides of a mountain. The many casas colgadas ("hanging houses") are built right up to the cliff edge, making Cuenca one of the most striking towns in Spain, a gem in the province of Castilla La Mancha.
Cuenca lies on the rail route from Madrid to Valencia/Alicante with at least four Regional trains each way daily, and up to 14 high-speed AVE trains from Madrid. The journey takes around 3 hours from Madrid on the Regional trains (€23.80 return, €14.85 single), and as little as 51 minutes on the AVE (average single fare €28.00). The AVE trains go to Cuenca Fernando Zobel station which is about 5km from the centre. There is a bus to the centre (€2.15) or a taxi should cost around €10.
There is a coach station called Cuenca bus station in the centre of Cuenca that travels to nearby cities. Travel time to Madrid is approximately 2 hours and it is about the same travel time to Valencia, costing around €12.
It's best to go by car, but if you don't mind walking there is much that can been seen and done in the centre of town. Buses numbers 1 and 2 take you from the centre up to the castle (Castillo). Take the bus to the end of the line where the views are breathtaking. Walk down the hill through the castle and Plaza Mayor. The cathedral (€3.80 including audio-guide) and hanging houses are all on the way.
- Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, Calle Canónigos 16001, +34 969212983. Cuenca was the longtime home of artist and photographer Fernando Zóbel, and he chose it as the location for the museum, located in two converted centuries-old "casas colgadas". Many of the pictures hang in glorious isolation with an entire wall for a single picture, and a few windows provide imposing views out over the gorge.
- Archeological museum. Dedicated largely to Roman finds in the area.
- Cathedral. Its façade is unfortunately marred by a nineteenth century attempt at remodeling, but has a beautiful Gothic interior with very detailed (and in some cases seemingly pagan) carvings. There is a near-absolute ban on photography, or even sketching, inside the cathedral, except by obtaining explicit permission, typically granted only on the basis of a portfolio.
See the hanging houses by the tourist train that leaves from the Cuenca tourist office on the hour every half an hour. If you have a car you can drive to some beautiful waterfalls in another part of Cuenca.
Because of the museum and because the town is a popular place for visitors from Madrid, Cuenca has a fine collection of small art galleries. You can collect Cuenca souvenirs in the tourist center near town.
Most of the best restaurants are down below in the newer part of town, which is far less picturesque.
Alaju, Morteruelo, Ajo Arriero, Zarajos are the most typical foods. The area around Calle San Francisco has excellent bars and restaurants. A menu-del-dia costs no more than €12, even at weekends.
There are some lovely outdoor pubs in the old city of Cuenca, and a more trendy street in the center of town, filled with 10 to 15 clubs. There is also a massive square near this street where people hang out drinking alcohol with friends. The high alcohol content liqueur named Resoli is a coffee, anise and orange flavoured liqueur. 15 years after I first tried it I am still enchanted. It is worth taking a bottle home.
There is a hotel in the centre of town, its sign H O T E L can be seen from far around Cuenca in all directions. If in doubt ask at the tourist office:
- NH Ciudad de Cuenca, Ronda San José 1 (Located along Calle Hermanos Becerril south of the train station), ☎ +34 969 23-05-02, . This hotel is in a new and calm residential zone, a few minutes away from from the commercial centre, the old part of town and the intercity bus and railway stations of the capital. edit
Then there re are some cheaper hostels in town:
- Pension Central, Alonso Chirino 7, ☎ +34 969 21-15-11. Cheapest-priced at about €24 a double edit
- Hostal Mora, Cjón. de San Francisco 1, ☎ +34 969 21-41-38. edit
- Hotel Tabanqueta, C/ Trabuco 13, ☎ +34 969 211-290, . is one of the most charming and best located Cuenca Hotels. This is a family-establishment, renovated in 2010, offering personalized and close service to its guests. edit
Both are near the town center.
In old town go to Parador
- Ciudad Encantada ('Enchanted City'): Located 30 Km away from the city, this Natural Site contains numerous rocks with memorable shapes. Entrance: 4 €.
- Ventano del Diablo ('Devil's Window'): Viewpoint from a natural opened cave, offering a spectacular view of the canyon.
- Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo: 80 Km from Cuenca, in the mountains, where the River Cuervo falls from high ledges forming waterfalls and curious rocks. Beware than in dry seasons waterfalls may be very thin.
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